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Design work

Landmine Detecting Rats

Kevin Myers (Psychology) and I collaborated for the past year with a Maryland-based defense contractor, CTSi, on a Phase I Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) grant. The grant was written in response to an Army RFP to develop a training system (both animal behavior and technical aspects) to be used for landmine detection in remote regions of the world. We were invited to submit a Phase II proposal but it was not funded. A positive outcome has been the press received. Bucknell’s communications office wrote a story that appear on our website. The story was picked up by a number of international news agencies, as well as the Discovery Channel. Filming will take place at Bucknell on August 1. 


From the Discovery Channel Website Promo (and we were featured on the entire show intro!)

World's Strangest
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Join the Gadget Show's Jason Bradbury as he uses international science and eye-witness accounts to explores the odd, bizarre and the down-right peculiar in exciting new series ‘World's Strangest'. A peaceful lake becomes a huge vortex that swallows boats and barges, a subterranean salt mine becomes a giant cathedral and blood rains from the sky with no warning- you will not believe your eyes! As well as exhibiting invisible tree houses, transforming cars, underwater pizza delivery boys, skiing buildings and jet-pack surfing, ‘World's Strangest' also looks at how bomb-sniffing rats and could save thousands of lives, robot suits can help the disabled walk again and how life-like androids with artificial intelligence are already among us!


Since the invention of land mines some seven centuries ago, activists, researchers and government officials have tried to root out the indiscriminate and deadly weapons with everything from metal detectors and robots to dogs, bees and rats.
The methods have, however, proved dangerous, labor-intensive and time-consuming.
Two Bucknell University professors are working with a U.S. Department of Defense contractor to develop faster and more sophisticated technology and methods to detect land mines. The team has devised a system to train rats to recognize and respond to the explosives, using materials that can be delivered anywhere with instructions that anyone can use.
"This is something that could drop out of the sky and give you everything you need to train rodents to sniff out land mines, even if the people who are using it can't read or write," said Kevin Myers, an associate professor of psychology who studies learning, memory and motivation as it relates to appetite and food preferences in rats.
Myers and Joe Tranquillo, associate professor of biomedical and electrical engineering, are working with Coherent Technical Services Inc. (CTSI). The U.S. Army Research Office has awarded the company and Bucknell $100,000 for Phase I of the project. Such contracts are designated for small businesses and academic research partnerships that address real problems with marketable technology.
Land mines are especially dangerous because they are often buried then lay concealed for years. The International Campaign to Ban Landmines describes land mines as indiscriminate weapons that kill and injure thousands of people each year, instilling fear and serving as a barrier to development.
'Innovative yet low-tech'
The project is an "innovative yet low-tech solution" to address a problem in developing areas of the world, Myers said. The big advantage to training rats rather than larger animals is that the rats are small and light and do not trip the land mines, which can remain dangerous for years after they are installed.
"Some people think we are sending off rats to blow up mines, and that's absolutely not the case," Myers said.
In his lab at Bucknell, Myers is training rats to respond to the scent of land mines by doing a simple task: turning in circles.
"The process is similar to how bomb-sniffing dogs are trained," he said. "There is a distinctive odor from the explosive in land mines, which diffuses in the soil. We have to train rats to recognize that. Rats' olfactory sensitivity is orders of magnitude higher than that of humans. We need to train the rats to regard that odor as significant by associating it with a food reward."
Cross-disciplinary collaboration
The project is a combination of psychology, animal behavior and engineering, Myers said.
"I think about how animal perception, memory and behavior fit into the problem, but the task is to design apparatus and a procedure to do this more efficiently," he said. "How do you design a Skinner box so it can be used by someone who doesn't speak English, or doesn't have academic training in behavioral psychology? How do you make it rugged so you can drop it out of a plane?"
To answer those questions, Myers asked Tranquillo to collaborate with him on the project. Tranquillo is working with student Matt Young Jr. in the University's new Richard J. Mooney Innovative Design Laboratory to develop the electrical, mechanical and thermal technology and software for the project. Graphic illustrations will provide users with step-by-step instructions on how to train and work with the rats in areas where land mines are present.
"It's a complicated problem," Tranquillo said. "The project involved devising a way to monitor and track how the rat is performing as well as developing an icon-based laptop to guide people who have little experience with technology or animal training," Tranquillo said.
The training protocol
The rats will be outfitted with miniature backpacks and wireless transmitters that track their positions and movements. During the first part of their training, the rats learn to associate a mild buzz in the backpack - much like the "vibrate" setting in a cell phone - with getting a food reward.  Eventually, the buzz itself acts as a reward that may be triggered when the rats complete certain tasks.
In the next phase of training, the rats are prompted to sniff various odors and are rewarded for doing something specific in response, such as turning to the left rather than the right, when the land mine odor is present. Eventually, the rats learn to behave more distinctively when they detect that odor.
"Because the rat associates the buzzer with food, you can use it to reward the rat for initiating some kind of action," Myers said. "We chose to teach them to turn in circles because that is not something they would do spontaneously. And it's easy to detect when they're doing it with a couple of motion sensors in the backpack."
The wireless transmitter also enables the trainers to communicate with the rats in the field, Tranquillo said. "We'll be able to constantly track the rat's location as it sniffs around a field and take note where the rat starts circling to tell us it smells a mine."
If the project is successful, the contract could be extended for two years with an award of up to $750,000. In Phase II, the Army would provide support for recruiting private investors for the final phase, product development.

Priestly Spark Device (link to Arts Too)

Images, Press, Eli

Bloomburg Theater Ensemble (

Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble brings life of Northumberland legend Joseph Priestley to the stage this January
BLOOMSBURG, PA- This January, Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble (BTE) is pleased to present its 2017 Project Discovery Production Gunpowder Joe: Joseph Priestley, Pennsylvania, and the American Experiment directed by Ensemble Member Laurie McCants.
Gunpowder Joe will play January 19th through February 5th, with eveningperformances as well as Project Discovery Student Matinees. Gunpowder Joe is a world-premiere play by award-winning playwright Anthony Clarvoe, commissioned by and created with the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble, about Joseph Priestley, celebrated scientist, radical religious leader, and fierce defender of the American Revolution, who, after making himself the most hated man in England, spent his last years in Northumberland, Pennsylvania.
            Hounded out of his native England, Joseph Priestley hoped to secure a sanctuary along the banks of the Susquehanna.  Would this refugee find America, that great experiment, to be the true democracy he had championed from across the sea?  Would he finally be free to pursue his religion, his science, and his political beliefs in this new “land of liberty”?
            Controversy continued to swirl around him.  Revolutionary comrades turned into bitter political opponents when it came time to actually govern the country they founded. The immigrant Priestley was drawn into the vortex of America’s first major crisis.  “Freedom of Speech” had yet to be tested, and Priestley’s admirers John Adams and Thomas Jefferson were engaged in a deeply polarized debate over the fate of our fledgling nation.
•     Joseph Priestley, celebrated scientist (discoverer of oxygen), political radical, and his wife and soul mate Mary
•     John Adams, second President of the United States, and his equally famous wife and soul mate Abigail
•     Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, and Sally Hemings, enslaved servant and mother of four of his surviving children
•     Benjamin Franklin Bache (grandson of Benjamin Franklin) and William Cobbett (pen name, Peter Porcupine), feuding journalists of the leading newspapers of the time
Though thoroughly grounded in history, the play will be presented in a vibrant contemporary style, featuring live music, projections, and actual science demonstrations:
•    ·         Electricity (Priestley was Benjamin Franklin’s protégée; he wrote the story of the key and the kite!)
•    ·         Carbonation (Priestley invented soda pop!)
According to director and BTE Ensemble Member Laurie McCants, Pennsylvanians should be interested in Priestley because of his connection to our area and his place in history. “As a scientist, Priestley is still world-famous, known as the “discoverer” of oxygen.  He was also considered a "very dangerous man” in his native England because he was a political radical, a religious dissenter, and fervent supporter of the American Revolution.  Thomas Jefferson said that many of the phrases he wrote in the Declaration of Independence were borrowed from Priestley.”   Priestley ended up in Northumberland by chance. “After a drunken mob hired by his enemies had burned down his house and laboratory in England, Priestley chose Northumberland as his home in exile.  Still vigorous but elderly, he imagined living out the rest of his years in quiet retirement on the bank of the Susquehanna, continuing his chemistry experiments and religious studies.”  
ABOUT PLAYWRIGHT ANTHONY CLARVOE Anthony Clarvoe has had three plays produced by BTE: Ambition Facing West, The Deer Hunter’s Bible, and Let’s Play Two. He has received American Theatre Critics, Will Glickman, Bay Area Theatre Critics, LA Drama Critics, Garland, Elliot Norton, and Edgerton New American Play awards; fellowships from the Guggenheim, Irvine, Jerome, and McKnight Foundations, National Endowment for the Arts, TCG/Pew Charitable Trusts, and Kennedy Center; commissions from South Coast Rep, Mark Taper Forum, and Playwrights Horizons; the Berrilla Kerr Award for his contributions to American theater; and many others.  Productions include Pick Up Ax (South Coast Rep, San Jose Rep), The Living (Denver Center), Let’s Play Two (South Coast Rep), Ambition Facing West (Trinity Rep, Theatreworks), Ctrl+Alt+Delete (San Jose Rep, George St. Playhouse), The Brothers Karamazov (Cincinnati Playhouse, Circle X), Show and Tell (Rep Theatre of St. Louis), Gizmo (Penn State Center Stage), Our Practical Heaven (Aurora Theatre), and most recently, a series of experimental movement-based pieces with Ragged Wing Ensemble in Oakland, CA.  His plays are published by Broadway Play Publishing, Inc. The Art of Sacrifice was published last year by Random House in the anthology Plays for Two. Anthony teaches at UC Berkeley, St. Mary’s College, and Stagebridge. A native San Franciscan and long-time resident of New York City and the Midwest, he lives with his family in Berkeley, CA.
ABOUT PROJECT DISCOVERY Project Discovery is a comprehensive theatre education program with a simple yet powerful mission: make sure every student from every high school in the five counties surrounding Bloomsburg attends professional performances by the Bloomsburg Theatre Ensemble at least once a year – FREE. Project Discovery 2017 matinee dates are January 24th, 25th, 26th, 31st and February 1st and 2nd, all beginning at 10:00 a.m.  Project Discovery school matinees are free to every high school student in the CSIU #16 and only $9.50 per student outside of the CSIU #16. A study guide will provide historical background and details on how Common Core Standards for Language Arts, Social Studies, and Science can be met through the experience of this play and related activities. Because Priestley’s renown and impact covers such a wide range, Gunpowder Joe will interest those studying and teaching these subjects:  American History and Politics; Chemistry and the History of Science; Religious Studies; Creative Writing (not only are Priestley’s own persuasive writings quoted in the play, but the playwright can meet with classes to share his process of transforming historical and documentary material into drama). Please contact School Programs Director Paula Henry for more information about Project Discovery and to see if your school qualifies. 570-458-4075 or
PUBLIC PERFORMANCES are Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30PM and Sundays at 3:00PM, January 19th through February 5th. BTE’s traditional “Pay What You Wish” Preview performances are January 19th and 20th at 7:30PM (doors open at 6:30pm, no reservations) and the “Pay What You Decide” Opening Night Performance is Saturday, January 21st at 7:30PM; reserve tickets online at or at 570-784-8181 and pay after the performance.
Gunpowder Joe is sponsored by The Friends of Joseph Priestley House, The Degenstein Foundation, Bucknell University, Penn State University, and BTE’s Season 39 Sponsors WNEP, WHLM, Seven Mountains Media, Press Enterprise, and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. Project Discovery is supported by businesses, individuals, and foundations; a full list can be found at the website
BTE is celebrating 39 years creating live professional theatre and arts education programming in Columbia County and beyond. For more information please visit

Senior Design Projects

Design Thinking - in how I approach technical work, but also leadership, education 

Sustainable Thinking and Design - Holistic view of design

Four Elements, K-WIDE, ILTM, Senior Design, Product Archaeology

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